The American Empire:
Too Big to Fail?

In reading about the federal bailout of all those financial wheeler-dealer outfits that are supposedly “too big to fail,” the layman may be forgiven for failing to comprehend the intricacies of the arcane financial instruments currently backfiring on their whiz-kid inventors. Such exotic creatures as “credit default swaps” may elude the understanding of the hoi polloi, but one thing the man in the street does know: he‘ll never be “too big to fail,” of that he can be sure.

He’s just not the Bear-Stearns type, and Congress would never shell out a penny before he loses his savings and his home, which – due to the propaganda of Panglossian economics, whereby houses stopped being homes and became investments – amount to pretty much the same thing. The paper-pushers of Wall Street made untold trillions out of a policy that was doomed to fail [.pdf] in advance, and whose critics have long predicted would end in precisely the manner our tale of economic woe is unfolding.

The policy of bank credit expansion, which enriches the already wealthy at the expense of the rest of us, has a fatal allure. It induces an initial euphoria, the false promise of permanent prosperity. This Panglossian view is the perfect economic system for an emerging empire, especially one with such inflated pretensions as ours. It is the economics of hubris – the same grandiosity that let us imagine we could implant “democracy” in the arid soil of Iraq and make the desert bloom.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. bestrode the earth like a colossus, America’s stock was rising, and the pride that goeth before a fall imbued our leaders with the illusion that they couldn’t fail. The American empire, they thought, is too big to fail. It’s the end of history – and the rest will just be a mopping-up operation, that will be well worth the costs.

The failed policies that led to our current economic predicament – the whole system of central banking and fiat currency – are precisely those policies that benefited those who are now demanding to be bailed out. They may have bankrupted the country, but you can be damned sure they aren’t going down with the rest of us, no sirree!

This outrageous rip-off is mirrored in the foreign policy realm, where the very same crowd that dragged us waist-deep into the Middle Eastern quicksand are lecturing us from every podium. The neocons who brought us the Iraq war are directing John McCain’s campaign, hanging on to power for dear life, shamelessly touting their alleged “success” even as the $3 trillion bill comes in and the people ask “For what?’ These are the real dead-enders, the ones who believe that George W. Bush never implemented his self-proclaimed “global democratic revolution,” but they will.

The same foreign lobbyists who pushed for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by U.S. force of arms have now turned their sights on Iran. The same newspaper columnists and professional know-it-alls who imagined that we would have a quick victory in Iraq – that it would be a “cakewalk,” as one of the more arrogant neocons once put it – are still dominating the official discourse with their calls to action on this front and that. Bill Kristol, the little Lenin of the neocons, who made the Iraq war his vocation, was awarded a coveted pulpit on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Other people are demoted for advocating failed policies, but members in good standing of the War Party are promoted. They, too, are too big to fail.

When the bill comes due, American taxpayers – and grieving parents and loved ones of the fallen – will have to pay, while the authors of our suicidal foreign policy get off scot-free.

The war profiteers aren’t just the arms manufacturers, the Halliburtons, and the “privateinternational security firms who do the empire’s dirty work. Key to the War Party are the intellectuals who gain prestige and real power over policymaking and public opinion on the strength of their reputations as paladins of interventionism. In some cases, these two types are embodied in the same people, Richard Perle being the exemplar.

In any event, what’s becoming increasingly clear is that the bailout brothers are all members of the same clan: think of them as a Mafia family, with a strict hierarchy of authority and command, albeit an informal one. At the top is the Don, finance capital, which controls the engine and sits at the dashboard pressing buttons according to a pattern: first inflation, then deflation, boom then bust, peace and then war again. But the bailout boys always parachute to safety before disaster envelopes the rest of us. Which is why failure only emboldens them.

Our rulers really do believe their empire is too big to fail, but of all the would-be lords of creation, our own ruling elite may have the shortest reign – and the hardest fall. The engine that runs the machinery of imperialism is breaking down at key junctures, and the whole structure is teetering and creaking ominously, as if to presage the coming implosion.

For the truth of the matter is that the very bigness of the American Imperium, the sheer scope of its rulers’ ambition, is precisely what is fated to bring about its downfall, and a very messy and painful descent it will surely be. As I relate in Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, during Rose Wilder Lane’s eye-opening trip to the Soviet Union in the 1920s she met a Russian peasant who predicted, with perfect accuracy, the fate of the commissars some 70 years later:

“‘It’s too big,’ he said. ‘Too big. At the top, it is too small. It will not work. In Moscow, there are only men, and man is not God. A man has only a man’s head, and one hundred heads together do not make one great head. No. Only God can know Russia.'”

The problem is that some men think they are gods. In the end, however, we will all pay the price for their hubris – the guilty as well as the innocent – as the American empire meets the fate of its Soviet predecessor, and for the same reason.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].